The battle between Microsoft and the rest of the industry over how to render HTML data in Web browsers is now being extended to the Extensible Markup Language (XML).
According to Microsoft officials, there are three ways to display XML in browsers: as XML data islands in the HTML page, XML intermixed with HTML, and stand-alone XML documents.
At present, Microsoft has committed to the first two implementations in Internet Explorer 5.0, but it still has not said whether stand-alone XML will be supported - causing some concern among developers.
Netscape has already committed to displaying native XML documents in Navigator and Communicator 5.0 browsers.
"The direction Microsoft appears to be going in XML will only be supported through HTML documents and scripts," said Simon St. Laurent, author of XML: A Primer.
"Anytime you're sending HTML, you're sending dead information, because you can't do anything with it."
Tim Bray, an independent consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia, and co-author of the XML 1.0 specification, said Microsoft has been deliberately vague on whether native XML documents can be displayed in Internet Explorer 5.0.
"My 'Redmondological' interpretation is that they are in the late stages of feature delivery trade-offs and that this ball is still in play," Bray said.
"I believe that given the wide acceptance of XML, it's a no-brainer that being able to display XML natively is a good thing for everyone."
Observers said Microsoft's data islands are a big improvement over what now exists in the browsers.
"Even though in some ways they violate the core of XML - combining both HTML and XML in a single hierarchy - I think this is a very pragmatic approach, and one that will be well-received by developers," said Jeremy Allaire, chief technology officer at Allaire.